The Gift of Dogs: Serenity & Connection

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I can’t resist a book about a dog. I was especially intrigued by Let Me Tell You About Jasper… because it it is written by Dana Perino, co-host of Fox New Channel’s “The Five” and former White House Press Secretary for President George W. Bush.

I was even more intrigued when I came across her book tour schedule and found that she would be at the Nixon Presidential Library in Orange County, about an hour away from where I live.

In the spirit of work-life balance, one of my goals is to seek out different kinds of events to attend, to learn new things, and to get out of the everyday haze.

And in the spirit of learning and growing from this past election, I’m seeking out ways to get out of the “echo chamber” (see John Oliver last Sunday and Nick Kristof today) that I’m obviously in, as all of my Facebook friends voted for Hillary Clinton (or at least those who posted about it), and most of the people I follow on Twitter predicted that she would (and should) win. (For the record, I consider myself an Independent).

I drove down to the Nixon Presidential Library, led by curiosity and by that bond dog lovers share. It was an interesting conversation between Perino and Richard Grenell, both dog lovers. I was most intrigued to be with people outside of my own social group, and hear their perspective on current affairs, our country, and the world. It was eye opening in many ways, and I’m grateful for that.

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The event was in a replica of the White House East Room.

With the exception of a few comments about politics, Perino and Grenell talked mostly about each of their dogs, Jasper and Lola, and how dogs are both great equalizers and great stabilizers.

Perino said that her favorite place in New York City is the dog park. In a busy life filled with stress, that’s where she finds serenity. “For me, it means you’re not really worried about yesterday or tomorrow. You’re just there. And that’s where I get that kind of peace,” she said.

She expanded on how dogs are equalizers: “I find we connect with other humans through our dogs. And I don’t think that’s just us, I think it goes for people all over the world… I’ve seen the power of dogs to comfort those who are lonely.” (A portion of the proceeds of Let Me Tell You About Jasper goes to Companions for Heroes).

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This is reinforced in the book, which is all about the impact Jasper, and all the dogs she’s loved in her life, have had on her. She writes:

“I’ve long used dogs as a buffer between my work and personal life, though I didn’t realize it until I sat down and really thought about how much I appreciate dogs. On my way to work, I see dogs out for their afternoon walks and it always makes me smile. Dogs have a way of softening my hard edges.

And I’ve found that no matter what the controversies or issues of the day that we discuss–and argue about–on television and online, dogs are the great equalizer. Just when it feels like we are so polarized as a country between right and left, and that we can’t get along, remember that we have a few things in common–and for millions of us, that is our love for pets. Sometimes, if you can’t get along with anyone or you have strife in a relationship, find common ground through your dogs: hit the dog park and reconnect.”

Grenell shared how his dog is a great stabilizer in his life, especially during this stressful election season. “Sometimes I would take an extra walk just so I could see my dog interact with the world,” he said, describing how he would unwind at night after getting home.

During the Q&A portion, I actually got to ask a question– about work-life balance, of course. I asked her how she manages to have a busy and successful career and spend time with her dog and husband. She said she simply couldn’t do it without her husband Peter and his support and the partnership they have. 

“My favorite piece of advice from my first book is that being loved is not a career-limiting decision,” she said. “Another thing that I really believe is having a dog really helped strengthen my marriage.”

The final question from the audience was about how people of different political views get offended by each other, and therefore there’s a breakdown in communication between them. The answer? 

“Maybe everybody should just get a dog.”

And those were literally the last words of the discussion. 

The book is a touching tribute to the love of, and for, dogs, what they can teach us, how they can help us to slow down and appreciate life, and how they can bring us together even if we disagree on politics or other issues.

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Whose Mind Is It Anyway?

Summer reading Michelle Chahine Sinno

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Illustration from “Whose Mind Is It Anyway?”

One of the obstacles to work-life balance, and one of the keys to it at the same time, is what we choose to think about and focus on. It’s so easy to get into a loop of thinking (or even yet obsessing) about work, goals, deadlines, and things we hope to achieve. It’s just as easy to let stress overtake us too.

As we hit July, and the half-waypoint of 2016 passed, I couldn’t help but assess what I’ve done so far to reach my goals of getting my books published and growing this blog. And though I always strive to stay positive, inevitable stress ensued, along with self-criticism, and negative thoughts.

That’s where the danger of thought loops that can take over our days, even weeks, comes in. Sometimes we play tricks on ourselves.

As is often the case, I came across Whose Mind Is It Anyway? when it was exactly what I needed to read. Short and simple, it does what all good books do: Identify and put into words (and in this case drawings), things we need to be more aware and conscious of. It’s a fun guide to getting out of our own heads, with chapters on connecting with our hearts instead of just listening to what’s swirling in our minds, staying calm, avoiding stress and relinquishing control. Here’s a great trailer for the book, that shows the fun illustrations and some of the themes:

It’s worth a read, especially if you want to work on reducing stress, prioritizing what really matters, and finding more balance this summer.

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Reading over breakfast this Friday morning.

 


Updated Monday July 18: Here’s a great excerpt from the book, if you’d like a preview.